The EVGA brand is synonymous with enthusiast grade products, and has been offering motherboards and video cards to this market segment for some time now. Today we will be looking at EVGA’s latest enthusiast level motherboard, the Z77 FTW. This is EVGA’s first venture into the newest Intel chipset, which offers native support for the Ivy Bridge CPUs and USB 3.0 (Finally!). Offering all the latest technologies, the Intel Z77 chipset promises to be a step up from the P67/Z68 chipset based motherboards. We’ll explore these new features and find out if EVGA’s Enthusiast level Z77 offering can make good use of everything this latest Intel chipset has to offer. Before we dive in to the review, here is a little snipped about EVGA.
EVGA is the #1 NVIDIA authorized partner in channel sales throughout North America. Based on the philosophy of intelligent innovation, market knowledge, and the real time operation, EVGA continues to identify the need in the market place and providing the solution to that need. By offering product differentiation, 24/7 tech support, a 90 day Step-Up program, and other customer focused programs, EVGA is a clear leader in all categories: etail, retail, distribution, and system builders. With headquarters in Brea, CA, EVGA’s global coverage includes EVGA GmbH in Munich, EVGA LATAM in Miami, and EVGA Hong Kong. For further information online about EVGA, visit http://www.evga.com.
EVGA continues on with their familiar black theme and graphic design for the box. There is a large “Z77 FTW” graphic on the front of the box, along with basic information about CPU and SLI support. The top right area mentions the motherboard’s USB 3.0, SATA III/6G and PCI Express 3.0 capabilities.
In addition to the large image of the motherboard itself, the back of the box makes good use of the available real estate to give a very detailed list of the key features and warranty information (3 Year). Speaking of the warranty, EVGA made some significant changes to their warranty program recently. The main changes were dropping the 30 day product registration requirement, and allowing the warranty to be transferable.
The box sides have been used to list such things as the package contents, unique EVGA features, and additional branding.
As we open the box for the first time, we are greeted with EVGA’s customary note regarding their customer service. EVGA asks that you refrain from returning the product to the store where it was purchased, but rather contact them for service.
In a break from the traditional “box in a box” method to house the accessories and the motherboard, EVGA has chosen to go with a large plastic clam shell to secure the Z77 FTW. All the accessories and literature are positioned in pockets at the top of the clam shell.
The list of accessories is extensive and provides everything needed for just about any imaginable configuration. If I had to nitpick, I think it would have been nice to include a 4-way SLI bridge, and perhaps a couple more SATA 6G data cables. Other than that, I think EVGA did a great job with the included accessories. As is typical with most EVGA motherboards, the users manual is scant on details. However, the visual installation guide does a great job of explaining what each area of the motherboard does, and the proper way to install components.
Having a look at the features and specifications of the EVGA Z77 FTW, we can see that the motherboard is packed with all the latest technologies that the Z77 chipset offers. One of the highlights is the addition of Lucid Virtu MVP, which allows you to combine the power of your discrete video card with the onboard graphics, or to let the onboard graphics take over when the system is being lightly used. Virtu MVP does a heck of a lot more than what I just mentioned. For a complete run down of Lucid Virtu MVP, you can visit the Lucid Website or visit this article at Anandtech. Suffice to say, its a cutting edge technology that should be explored by anyone considering a Z77 based motherboard.
For those of you that can’t get enough graphics power, 4-Way SLI is supported on the Z77 FTW making it possible to assemble a powerhouse gaming system. If you decide on a 3-Way SLI setup, you will really like the fact that the PCI-e slots are arranged in a manner that allows for dual slot spacing between all three cards.
In addition everything the Z77 platform offers, EVGA has implemented some of their own features to go along side. Let’s start off by listing the key specifications and design details as provided by EVGA.
|Supported CPUs||Intel Cire i3, i5, i7 Socket 1155|
|Dimm QTY||4 Dimm Slots|
|Memory Type||DDR3 800/1066/1333/1600/1866/2133+|
|Memory Capacity||32 GB|
|SATA II 3.0 Gb/s Ports/Controller||4/Z77 PCH|
|SATA III 6.0 Gb/s Ports Controller||2/Z77 PCH – 2/Marvell 9182|
|Raid Support||Raid 0, 1, 5, 10, JBOD|
|USB 2.0 Ports/Controller||10/Z77 PCH|
|USB 3.0 Ports/Controller||4/Z77 PCH – 2/ASMedia ASM1042|
|Network Ports/Controller||2/Marvell 88E8057|
|Audio/Controller||8-Channel HD/Realtek ALC889|
|PCI-E Slot Arrangement||1×16 or 5×8|
|PCI-E Mechanical Slots||5|
|PCI-E X 1 Slot||1|
|Software||EVGA E-Leet Tuning Utility|
|Dimensions||Width: 10.375 in – 263.5 mm
Length: 12 in – 304.8 mm
Form Factor – EATX
Going above and beyond the features and specifications, EVGA added some of their own personality to the motherboard. These additional features are geared towards the enthusiast crowd and many of them are unique to the EVGA brand.
As we begin our up close look at the EVGA Z77 FTW, we begin at the bottom area of the motherboard. Looking at the left side, we can see the secondary 6-Pin PCI-e power connector used for feeding additional power to the graphics cards. This PCI-e 6-Pin connector is labeled as secondary, and therefore only needs to be used under extreme overclocking environments. Also located in this area is the built in speaker, two USB 2.0 front panel headers, and the Firewire front panel header.
Moving over to the right side, we find the first two of seven fan headers on the board. The front panel USB 3.0 connection (ASMedia), the front panel switch/LED connections, and the triple BIOS switch are all located here as well. The triple BIOS switch is a welcome sight for a number of reasons; none more important than the ability to recover from a BIOS flash gone bad. All you have to do is throw the switch to another position and you will be able to boot the system again. Beyond the BIOS flashing, the ability to test out up to three different BIOS versions is something most enthusiasts will enjoy having.
Sitting right on the corner is the removal BIOS chip holder, which allows for replacing the BIOS chip should disaster strike and you manage to corrupt all three available BIOS positions.
The right side of the Z77 FTW has the eight right angled SATA ports at the bottom area. The four red ports are SATA 6 Gp/s, but only the lower two are native to the Z77 chipset. The top two SATA 6 Gp/s ports are provided by the Marvell 9182 controller as a third party solution. Just next to the SATA ports is a PCI-e disable DIP switch, which allows the user to disable any of the 5 slots. This can be a big time saver if you are trying to troubleshoot a video card problem when using multiple cards.
Moving upward we come to the right angled 24-Pin ATX power connector (great for cable management), the post code LED, and the onboard reset/power/clear CMOS buttons. In a break from tradition EVGA has moved the POST code LED and the onboard buttons from the bottom of the board to a location that is more accessible/viewable once the system is assembled. Sitting on the very top right corner is another fan header.
You may have noticed the jumper behind the black SATA ports, labeled “Dark Mode.” Setting this jumper to the enabled position will turn off all the onboard lighting, except for the post code LED.
The top area of the Z77 FTW gives us our first look at the four DDR3 DIMM slots, and a couple of the enthusiast features included on the motherboard. On the outside edge of the board is the new style voltage read out pins. You can use these to manually check the different voltages using a digital volt meter. Unfortunately, none of the pins are marked as to what pin is for what voltage. I was able to obtain the information from EVGA, and below is the pin out information from left to right. There are plans in place to offer a “Probelt” which will plug into the voltage read out socket, making it much easier to access the voltage readings.
There are two more fan headers at the top of the board; one for the CPU and the other being labeled as a chassis fan. There are dual 8-Pin ATX CPU power connections located here as well, one of which has a sticker stating that it only needs to be used under extreme overclocking conditions. If your power supply has two 8-Pin power leads, then I recommend plugging them both in. More available power is a good thing and it certainly won’t hurt anything.
The four native USB 3.0 ports and six USB 2.0 ports are found on the left side of the motherboard’s I/O area. In addition to the ample USB connectivity, there are two E-SATA and two LAN ports at your disposal. EVGA has gone back in time and added a P/S2 keyboard connection for those of you that need one. Rounding out the I/O area is a clear CMOS button, the Realtek 8-channel analog jacks, the optical out port, and a display port connection.
The front panel audio connection, and the SPDIF connection are located at the bottom area of the motherboard’s left side. You can also see some of the many 100% solid state capacitors used on the Z77 FTW from this angle.
A look at the back side of the motherboard shows EVGA uses screws to attach the heatsinks. The screw down method provides superior contact with the target area when compared to spring loaded pushpins used by other manufactures. Past EVGA socket 1156/1155 motherboards have offered the ability to use an older socket 775 CPU cooler by multi-drilling the motherboard to accept both. There are only four CPU cooler mounting holes around the CPU socket, which unfortunately means support for socket 775 coolers has been eliminated from the Z77 FTW. This is probably not a big deal to the vast majority of users out there, and even if you have a socket 775 cooler that you just can’t part with, chances are there is an adapter kit available to make it work on socket 1155/1156 motherboards.
There are several third party solutions used on the Z77 FTW, but the main ones are ASMedia for the front panel USB 3.0, Marvell for the LAN/E-SATA/2xSATA 6Gp/s, Realtek for high definition audio, and VIA for Firewire.
Moving toward the center of the motherboard, we can see the five available PCI-e graphics slots. Each location is marked with the corresponding slot number on the PCB. For those of you who are interested, here is the PCI-e lane configuration:
- 1 Card: x16
- 2 Cards: x16 – x16 (Slot 2 & Slot 4)
- 3 Cards: x8 – x16 – x16
- 4 Cards: x8 – x16 – x8 – x8
Just to the left of PCI-e slot #1 is the primary PCI-e 6-Pin power connection, which should be used with any multiple graphics card configuration.
One thing that struck me as I was looking at the CPU socket area is how uncluttered it is. It’s hard to imagine any CPU cooler that wont fit, given the openness of the area. Even the DIMM slots are positioned a good distance away from the CPU socket, making the use of memory with tall heatsinks possible. Do you notice anything different from the norm on the DIMM slots? Look closely and you will see that only the outer edge of the slots have the lock/release lever. EVGA has done away with a lever on both ends of the DIMM slots. When I installed the memory, it felt secure and locked in place as expected. As usual, EVGA has applied a sticker over the DIMM slots with recommended voltage and the proper population method.
Next up is removal of the cooling solution provided on the Z77 FTW, and taking a look under the hood. First to be removed was the passive heatsink covering the PWM chips. The thermal pad was making good contact with all the target areas, albeit a little more so on the lower area.
The active cooling solution on the Z77 FTW serves a dual purpose. The heatsink covers, and provides the cooling for, both the Z77 PCH and the PLX PEX8747 chip. The PLX chip is used to provide PCI-e 3.0 capabilities spanning over the five available PCI-e slots. The active cooler uses thermal pads for both target areas, and was found to be making good contact with each chip.
The Z77 FTW BIOS is packed with just about anything you could need or want. It doesn’t take long, as you navigate through the menus, to realize the BIOS was geared toward the overclocking enthusiast. There is enough voltage options, memory configuration options, and CPU configuration options, to keep any enthusiast busy for quite a while.
While still lacking mouse support and fancy graphics found in other manufacturers UEFI bios, EVGA’s implementation is easy to navigate, uncluttered, and feature rich.
Instead of boring you with a couple dozen pictures, I decided to do a video tour of the BIOS. Follow along as I navigate the BIOS and point out a few of the key areas.
Knowing full well that the Ivy Bridge processors tend to run hotter than their Sandy Bridge counterparts, we’ll dive in to the overclocking section with the hopes of getting our customary 1 GHz overclock. Well, OK more like a 1.1 GHz overclock, because I’m actually shooting for 4.6 Ghz. The stock speed of the i7 3770K is 3.5 GHz; we’ll see if we can tame the temperatures well enough to allow reaching our goal.
Here is the rundown on the components used for the testbed:
- EVGA Z77 FTW BIOS Version 103 (Alpha version, yet to be released)
- G.SKILL Trident X (2 x 8GB) DDR3 2400 F3-2400C10D-16GTX
- Kingston 3KSSD 240 Gb
- Intel i7 3770K Processor
- EVGA Superclock CPU Cooler
- Corsair HX1050 PSU
Once I started the overclocking, I ran into a few memory related issues with the BIOS. EVGA, in their customary fashion, was quick to respond and had a new BIOS in my hand within a few hours. The alpha release of BIOS 103 fixed the issues I was having, and should be an official release very soon. I went ahead and jumped right to 4.6 GHz, believing that to be the maximum overclock that allowed temperatures to remain at acceptable levels under air cooling. My hunch was correct and at 100% CPU load the temperatures maxed out just over 80C.
Getting to the 4.6 GHz overclock was easy to accomplish with just a bump in CPU volts to 1.250, and changing the CPU multiplier to 46X. The memory ran solid as a rock at their rated 2400 MHz speed, and remember, these are 8 Gb sticks!.
Below are some screenshots of EVGA’s E-LEET software showing the Overclocked speed, memory settings, and the voltages. E-LEET can also be used to Overclock from the desktop, including CPU multiplier adjustments and all the voltages. The monitoring tab gives you real time information on fan speeds, temperatures, and voltage readings.
Once set to 4.6 GHz and the memory running at 2400 MHz, I ran wPrime 32M and 1024M . A sub 6 second 32M run is pretty impressive! The run at 1024M was an impressive time as well, and would definitely point out any instabilities if present.
A sub 8 second result from SuperPI 1M was produced next; followed by a SuperPI 32M run at almost exactly 7 minutes. The 32M run is another good indication of the system stability. I’ve seen cases where Prime95 and LinX stress test utilities pass with flying colors, but the 32M run of SuperPI will still fail to complete.
The last stability test was using AIDA64 for a quick 5 minute run. As you can see, one of the cores was maxing out around 82C, these Ivy Bridge CPUs need WATER!!
As is customary here at Overclockers Tech, we like to run the full battery of tests provided by AIDA64 Extreme. For a detailed description of what the AIDA64 Extreme benchmarks are actually testing, I invite you to visit their website to learn more.
First up is the suite of memory tests, which include read, write, copy, and latency. None of the comparison systems built into AIDA64 are overclocked or use memory running at 2400 MHz like we are. However, we wanted you to see the results based on our 4.6 GHZ overclock and our memory speed of 2400 MHz. The reasoning behind this is we feel a similar overclock is obtainable by just about everyone, even with a good air cooling solution. Additionally, as memory continues to get faster and more affordable, chances are the majority of users purchasing this motherboard will be using higher end memory as well.
The memory scores below really show the advantages of having a 2400 MHz kit installed. Even the comparison systems that are using triple and quad channel memory fell way behind here.
The five CPU tests were run next and show some great scores. Our system came out on top of every other quad core on the comparison chart, only being bested by the X79 CPUs and their 6 cores. The CPU hash test showed a 12X Opteron taking the lead.
The FPU tests are the last set of AIDA64 benchmarks to be run. The Julia test measures 32-Bit floating-point performance, and our system came out just below the six core i7-3960X. The same held true for the Mandel test as well, which measures the 64-Bit floating-point performance. The 80-Bit floating-point Sinjulia test shows our system leading the way against all other quad core systems, but fell behind six and eight core systems. Finally, the video compression test shows our system coming out on top, even besting six core competitors.
There are three SATA controller options available on the Z77 FTW, which make up the eight SATA ports. The three options include the two native Intel SATA 6 GB/s ports, the four native Intel SATA 3 GB/s ports, and two third party Marvell SATA 6 GB/s ports.
Using ASSSD and a 240 Gb Kingston 3KSSD, I ran the read and write benchmark portion to give you an idea of the performance level each has to offer. As expected, the Intel SATA 6 GB/s controller led the pack and out performed the Marvell 6 GB/s controller by 11% in both the read and write test.
The USB controllers on the Z77 FTW also come in three flavors; Intel native USB 3.0, Intel native USB 2.0, and ASMedia USB 3.0 for the front panel connection. Using an ADATA USB 3.0 thumb drive, I again ran the ASSD read and write tests. I was happy to see the same results from both the Intel and ASMedia USB 3.0 controllers. As expected the USB 2.0 controller was much slower, especially on the read side of things.
It’s easy to tell that EVGA values its customer’s input when developing new motherboards. Here are the design changes I noticed that are a direct result of customer influence:
- The “Dark Mode” jumper, which allows turning off all the onboard LEDs, except for the post code display.
- The onboard postcode led, power, reset, and clear CMOS button have all been moved near the top right side of the board allowing for easy access after the system is assembled.
- PS/2 port has been added because some gamers feel it is more responsive than using USB.
- Two onboard PCI-e type 6-Pin power connectors to ensure your high end graphics cards never starve for power.
- Better spacing between multiple GPU configurations.
- More than two SATA 6 GB/s ports, thus the reason for adding the two Marvell 6 GP/s SATA ports.
In addition to the above, the Z77 chipset brings its own set of technologies to the table as well. Probably the most welcome sight is the addition of native USB 3.0 support. While not exclusive to the Z77 chipset, Lucid Virtu MVP and SSD caching are additional features that many users will appreciate.
The EVGA Z77 FTW supports 4-Way SLI, and there are very few Z77 motherboards that do. The sky is the limit as far as building a powerful gaming rig goes. Overclocking couldn’t be easier, provided you have adequate cooling. Once I had the alpha 1.03 BIOS, I was able to set my memory at its rated 2400 MHz, and clock the CPU to 4.6 GHz in a matter of seconds. At these settings, the Z77 FTW proved to be completely stable and easily took every benchmark we threw at it.
If you are the type that enjoys extreme overclocking, then you will enjoy a couple of the BIOS settings intended to make that journey a success (see the BIOS video above). It will be interesting to see what the Liquid Nitrogen Crowd amongst you can get out of this motherboard. Who knows, there may be a world record or two on the horizon; time will tell!
At the time of this review the Z77 FTW is available for $319.99 USD from Newegg, or $329.99 USD directly from EVGA. This price puts it right in line with other high end Z77 motherboards on the market. EVGA left nothing on the table as far as the features included on the Z77 FTW; its all there. The motherboard is an overclocking beast, and will delight anyone looking to build a killer gaming system. If you are looking at the Z77 platform for your next system build, then you absolutely must take a good hard look at this latest offering from EVGA.
The EVGA Z77 FTW has been awarded a 9.5/10 and the accompanying Overclockers Tech Gold Award!
Dino DeCesari (Lvcoyote)